The BBC has put online a catalogue of recordings held of its radio and television broadcasts since about 1930! Not the recordings themselves, mind you, but details such as broadcast dates, participants, and programme summaries, in many cases. Nor is it a complete record of what was broadcast: if it wasn't recorded (as many early programmes were not), then it's not in there.
Some notes on getting around: searching could be easier, from an historian's point of view. You can search by description, or contributor, which are useful, but there is no way to search a range of dates, nor is it set up for browsing dates. If you have a specific day in mind, then you can go straight to it by using a URI of the form
http://open.bbc.co.uk/catalogue/infax/on_this_day/yyyy/mm/dd. For example to see what the archive has for 30 January 1965, the URI is
http://open.bbc.co.uk/catalogue/infax/on_this_day/1965/01/30. To see what the catalogue has for a particular year, the best way would seem to be to go to the advanced search page and enter the desired year in the description field; the vast majority of results will actually be from later programmes, but the older ones will be at the bottom of the page. I'm sure searching will improve in future, after all it is a prototype, in the BBC's very non-Web 2.0 language.
Here's a few random things I've found:
- A Mr Adolf Hitler has appeared in 602 productions since the 1930s, most often alongside Hermann Goering, Franklin Roosevelt, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Winston Churchill. I imagine they were some sort of British Rat Pack or perhaps a troupe of comedians.
- The earliest recording in the catalogue looks to be The End of Savoy Hill, broadcast on 14 May 1932, a retrospective of the BBC's first decade. Precisely because of the lack of recordings, it featured people like John Reith, Vita Sackville-West and Dick Sheppard re-reading things they'd said on the radio years before!
- Britain's greatest gift to the world?
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